I remember the first time the concept of Personally Identifiable Information, aka PII, was introduced to me. It was 2003, and I worked for an agency that had just been acquired by Avenue A, a leading digital media shop. On our first trip to their office the legal team dragged us into a large conference room to educate us on the dangers of PII. We were told that under NO circumstances would we collect or store any PII data on websites or gather PII through third party media partners. PII was a non-starter. Luckily, we weren’t collecting any PII but that was more by chance than design.
Fast forward to today and personal data is a hot topic. And for good reason: over the last 15 years, the lines of what is PII and non-PII linkable data has become blurred, and the regulations around the storage and usage of customer data is more confusing than ever. This was driven by the advent of smart phones and e-commerce sites offering the convenience of “one-touch” purchasing…not to mention the ability to log on to multiple sites with one common credential (looking at you Facebook.) The perceived cost of this easy-to-use technology was pretty low. We were just asked to allow them to store our data – and in some cases, sell our personal information. Most people happily made the decision to forfeit a little privacy at the cost of convenience.
I say “happily” because for most people this seemed like an open and fair trade. I suspect there are also a large number of people who didn’t really think about the implications at all. However, more and more people are questioning the fairness of trading privacy for convenience. The more manufacturers and retailers push the envelope on collecting, storing, and sharing consumer data, the creepier it becomes. Recently, people were made aware that Amazon was quietly embedding mesh capabilities into their devices with “opt in” as the default. The Amazon Sidewalk was announced as a shared network that extends the range of its Echo and Ring devices to pool together neighbors’ Wi-Fi and improve connectivity. This is being done automatically – no opt in, so people will need to opt out if they don’t want to participate.
Being in the business of digital marketing for the past 24 years I have always had a knee-jerk reaction to defend the actions of marketers and manufacturers in this space. However, more than ever, companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google continue to push this privacy envelope. And while they push one way, Apple is pushing the other, stepping up its privacy leadership by offering new features that will help users control and monitor apps’ use of their personal data.
While Apple is doing its part, it really is incumbent upon each of us to understand the privacy policies of the technologies that we interact with on a daily basis. It takes some work and research, but it needs to be done in order to weigh the relative cost of convenience and determine whether the proverbial view is worth the climb. My perspective? That view better be pretty darn spectacular.
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